If the last statistics you ever came across involved the Poisson distribution at school, you may well be forgiven for running a mile from keeping any kind of statistics in your professional life. I studied A’level Maths with Statistics along with my languages (very little choice in the dark days if you didn’t want to go down the standard English or History route!) and while I wouldn’t say I actually enjoyed it, I suppose it did appeal to the logical side of my brain. In fact, mathematical ability is said to go hand-in-hand with language skills – but then, they say that about music too and I’m one of the world’s least musical people!
However, it makes sense to keep a weather eye on the facts and figures behind your business, enabling you to pick up on trends, change direction if necessary and weed out any poor performers. It’s also useful to have comprehensive records if you come to apply for tenders – and tenders seem to be becoming more common nowadays, not only for EU and government organisations , but also many large companies. The tender process can be a real bind, requiring vast amounts of information from individual translators – all made much easier if you have the relevant data to hand in the first place.
When I started out in translation over 30 years ago, we didn’t have the luxury of computerised systems (or computers for that matter!), so inevitably our in-house translation records took the form of simple hand-written ledgers showing the relevant information for each translation request, who it was assigned to, deadline, word count, etc. When I left to go freelance 5 years down the line, it seemed elementary to use a similar system for my own records – and indeed I still have the every same register to this day! My handwriting has got progressively untidier, the rates have increased considerably, and it’s patched together with parcel tape, but it still exists as a very precious and essential part of my workflow. I may have adapted the column headings slightly over the years, but this is basically how it looks:
At a glance, I can see what jobs I have in at any one time, how many words, what deadlines, how much I’ve invoiced and, perhaps most importantly of all, when I’ve been paid. It may be simple, but there’s no denying that it works extremely effectively – even in a power cut/computer crash! It would be a relatively simple matter to recreate this in an Excel spreadsheet and I may well do that in the future for back-up purposes – but I still like having a physical record too.
I also keep a fairly straightforward database of all the texts I’ve ever translated, now using Microsoft Access, although it started out as an extremely basic MS Works database. The original intention, having joined the computer age, was to allow me to relocate texts by date, title, subject or author in case I needed to reference them at a later date. CAT tools mean that this is rarely necessary these days (hurrah for concordance searches!), but I still keep the records just in case – and actually this was extremely useful when I needed to find out how many words I’d translated for certain clients/ subject areas for my ITI membership application and for tender submissions too. Also when a colleague was looking for the answer to a term query I’d posted on ProZ many years ago, pre-CAT tools – wonder of wonders, the system worked and I was able to find the document in question, albeit on an ancient CD-ROM!
I invested in TO3000 some years ago, but have found it fairly disappointing as far as invoicing and reports go, although it’s quite useful as a back-up project management tool and enables me to see at a glance what projects I’ve translated for specific clients. I just wish I could work out how to get it to produce detailed reports of word counts for specific clients over certain periods…
My invoices are based on yet another simple Excel-based system: I have templates for each client, in both Word and Excel, add the pricing details for each completed job to the ongoing Excel spreadsheet each month, then transfer the totals to the Word file at the end of each month – a matter of minutes! I know there are dedicated accounts and invoicing packages out there, but I’m loath to pay a monthly subscription when my own systems work pretty smoothly.
Accounts-wise, I’m afraid I’m still stuck in the dark ages with yet another ledger based on the Simplex system. When I first set up as a freelancer, I had a consultation with my local government small business advisor and this was the system they recommended, so it’s stuck! I always do my accounts at the end of each month, taking no more than a few minutes to enter my income and expenditure, which means that assembling the yearly accounts to go off to my accountant is a piece of cake. I keep a record of all my expenses in yet another register, which also contains all my receipts, so it’s easy to cross-reference the two (and should be self-explanatory if ever I’m subject to a tax inspection).
I also use Microsoft Money for my personal and business finances, entering all my expenditure as I go. This dates back to my divorce, when I needed to keep very detailed records of what I was spending, but it’s actually been a very useful habit to get into. I’m not sure whether this particular package is available any more, which is a shame, as it’s very comprehensive budgeting software, but there are plenty of other budgeting packages out there which probably do an equally good job. Unlike TO3000, it’s child’s play to produce reports on how much income you’ve received from each client, how much your telephone or gas bills are for the year, and so on.
Finally, I bank online and check my accounts most days so I can keep tabs on incoming payments. I then transfer the appropriate amount to a dedicated tax savings account (offset against my mortgage) as I go, thus avoiding any nasty shocks at the end of the year.
Armed with all this data, I find it fascinating to compile annual client statistics to compare how much work I’ve had from all my clients (in terms of both income and words translated), in which languages, how much work came from direct clients and how much from agencies and how much was from the UK and how much from abroad. This may encourage you to set targets for increasing the percentage of work with direct clients, say, or it may make you realise that you’re too dependent on one particular client or sector – or even language. Having done mine for a number of years now, they make interesting reading, mirroring the recession of 2007/2008 with a change in language volumes, and the current poor Euro/Sterling exchange rates reflected in a tendency to switch back to domestic clients. It might also draw attention to the fact that you’re devoting too much time to lower-paying clients at the expense of more lucrative higher-paying clients; not that rates are necessarily the be-all and end-all, but if you have a choice, it can be enlightening to see it recorded in black and white!
I’m aware that my ledger-based systems present a major flaw in that they aren’t backed up as computerised systems would be and I fully intend to create some sort of back-up system, especially for my accounts/expenses, on the computer when I’ve a free moment. At present, if the worst came to the worst and my house went up in flames, I’d only be able to access some of my data, which definitely isn’t ideal….
But how about you? I’d love to hear how others organise their workflows and records – who knows, perhaps I can streamline my processes even further?